Interview with The Hell Hacker

Published in Domination #15
Performed by Jazzcat

The interview section begins its journey once more in this * special * edition of Domination. First in the line is with the old USA scener known as The Hell Hacker. He was formerly a member of The Shaolin Monastery importing group back in the good old days. If you want to take a time machine back to the scene in the eighties, then please proceed!

Welcome to the Domination magazine a special edition focused on the importing and cracking scene. Can you please introduce yourself to the readers...

Thanks for interviewing me!
My name is Andy and my alias USED to be The Hell Hacker, although I've grown out of that name ;) When you are in your teens sometimes you do some things you look back on and snicker at. I've been in quite a few groups and haven't been active in the scene since 1989, which is the year I quite altogether.

1989, wish I had even STARTED in the group scene at this time ?
If possible, could you tell us when you first joined the scene and what happened up until the point where you left it.

I first joined the scene sometime in 1985. At that time, the major groups were Starfleet, Eagle Soft Inc, Mr. Nike and a few others I can't remember.

My first real interaction with the scene was when I started my first BBS, called The Devil's Den.
Basically I did a lot of local trading and knew nothing about cracking, and very little programming. The one thing that happened when I was 14 was I met this guy named Matt, whose handle was Rad Man (another one of those names you come up with when you're a teen).

He was from Arizona and he was to become the programmer of my first group, TSI, which stood for Tiger Soft Incorporated. Basically I took the ESI name and just came up with another animal to use :D I wasn't over original then!

I started a new bulletin board on the good ole' C-NET BBS, version 10 I think, called The Abusement Park.
I really liked that name and still do. Of course it was still pretty childish, but it was more original than "The Devil's Den".

We released some pretty crappy warez as TSI. Eventually we met up with NEPA (North East Pirates Association) run by Pira-Ted, who worked for a phone company.

I remember he had something like 7 phone lines in his house! From there we met Billy The Kid who was in a group with another guy who ran a voice mailbox system.

This was our first brush with fame on the scene. We got our own mailbox on the same system as cracking greats ESI and UCF, and continued onward.

Tiger Soft wasn't doing that great, pretty mediocre. By this time we had become good friends of Pira-Ted and were asked to join NEPA as cracker and programmer.

It had just been Rad Man and me up until that point. We did some good releases for NEPA, such as "Spy vs. Spy 3", and Rad Man did a few demos.

By this time he had really come into his own and was excellent at doing intros.

Many of my earlier releases escape me, so I'm sorry not to be able to recount that many.

One of the demos I did was called "Def Jam". It wasn't that great by demo standards today, but I wasn't really a demo programmer. I also programmed two other things, Hack Pack 1 and Hack Pack 2. These were basically programs that would let you do all sorts of DOS things, and I slapped in a bunch of programs (pirated, of course) that I found useful, as well.

When I was in NEPA, I had met The Head Librarian and Mitch from Eagle Soft. The Head Librarian had a group called ABNI (I THINK it stood for Abuse Network... something or other). I became good friends with both of them. I was becoming a better cracker by this time, and could handle many different protection schemes. I would program directly in ASM in my Super Snapshot cartridge Machine Language Monitor. I never wrote anything with a TRUE assembler. Of course, these days I'm not that stupid, I hope.

I spoke with Mitch of ESI quite a bit. We had certain things in common, like old Anime cartoons we used to run home from school to watch. I learned quite a bit from him about cracking and programming. I used to fall asleep on the phone while he was cracking games.

I remember one game we worked on together that I released for TSI called "Into the Eagles Nest".  We walked through it and he helped me with some of the memory management routines.

Some games I remember him cracking while we were talking:

California Games
Street Sports Baseball
The Games - Summer & Winter editions
Indiana Jones (don't remember which)

Eventually I was asked to join ESI. At this point Rad Man joined an importing group (I can't remember the name!) and he did demos and NTSC fixes for them. I didn't do much when I was in ESI. I think their motive to get me in, other than us being good friends, was like Microsoft's "Embrace and Extend" philosophy; if I was in the group, there would be less competition. All that had been stopping us until then was a good original supplier.

As ESI dropped out of the C64 scene and Mitch went Amiga, I left the group and Rad Man and I got together once again to form TSM, The Shaolin Monastery. These next 2 years were to be our glory years, pretty much. We became the #1 cracking group in the USA, by sheer output of cracked originals, until I left the scene in 1989.

Basically by then there wasn't much left to do in my mind as far as cracking went. I also think I had outgrown cracking. It gave me a wealth of  knowledge, which I thank goodness for today. I don't think I'd be working in computers to the extent I am today if it weren't for those early days.

Getting back to TSM, we had a good original supplier named The Gamer. At this time there was heated competition between TSM and NEC. We were basically going to war. NEC wrestled The Gamer away from us, because he wanted to have more power in TSM. This was always something reserved for the founders, which were Rad Man and me. I wasn't about to give any power up to the original supplier, who got all the warez he wanted and ran a great BBS. I didn't see the point; he would get hundreds of "returns" on his investment. Shortly after he left TSM, we got another supplier named Blue Devil. We were releasing many games at this time, beating out NEC.

Our first comeback game after losing The Gamer was "Kings of the Beach" by EA. Shortly after I released a disk trainer for that game so the other team would never get any points. One game I distinctly remember that I beat their cracker on, whose name was Horizon, was a game called "Destroyer Escort". I remember that their load routines were somewhere high in memory, past $f000. Basically what I did was to create my own loader (I had to rip the files too, since the disk was in a non-standard format) and locate it low in memory. For some reason, Horizon, who was an exceptionally great cracker, had problems with this game, and we beat them by a good 4 hours or so.

Blue Devil eventually joined NEC, basically for the same reason as The Gamer. More "power". Mind you, these were MEN in their 30s and 40s! I refused Blue Devil the "half power" he wanted in the group. I didn't start the group to give power out, I started it to crack warez for the scene. So after he left, we still did just as good because a few older members (with credit cards!) banded together to get the games shipped to me next-day air, as I had been getting them from The Gamer and Blue Devil.

Sometime after The Gamer had left, he got hit by a car. He was injured very badly and had to be in a wheel chair. I thought this was very sad, and I wished him the best.  Many people really took things hard and liked to be cruel. Even though The Gamer shunned us and kicked sand in our faces, I still was sorry to hear what had happened to him.

One of the highlights of this time was a girl that had joined the group back in the beginning. Her name was Arielle, her handle was Aycee. She was a distributor for us. She had been in MSI. I forgot what it stood for. I think "More Stupid Initials". She also handled importing for us. We had some exclusive imports for a couple of major groups, like Talent (Hi Bod!). She opened a lot of distribution channels to the group, which is what we needed to beat out NEC. Arielle and I were always very close, and I hope someday to find her to catch up.

Some of the cracks I remember that we did:

Thunder Blade
Alien Syndrome
Kings of the Beach
Magic Candle
Destroyer Escort
Test Drive

There was plenty more, but...

I wish I had at least kept a list of these. Sorry again! Here is a link, however, to Rad Man's existing TSM page, which has intros and games on it:

Matt (Rad Man) and I are still best friends today, after god knows how many years. We are both involved in the computer industry still, but legally :) I had taken a major hiatus from computers. I am now 27 years old and married, and I just came back to computers 4 years ago. There was a good 6 year gap where I worked mostly in retail, and then realized I was doing nothing I really enjoyed. I finally got a system admin job at my local library and then moved on to web programming, which is what I do today.

It would be nice, someday when I have the time, to put together a little page about the group and all our releases and dates.

During your active period on the C64, what were some of the importing and cracking groups around and what boards did you call?

Wow. I wish I could remember all of that.

The groups that were around that stick mostly in my mind still:
ESI (Eagle Soft IncorporateJ)
FBR (Fucked Beyond Repair)
NEC (North East Crackers)
ATC (A Touch of Class)
NEPA (North East Pirates Association)

Sorry to any I missed --don't hate me-- it's been 11 years!

I can't remember any of the boards I called! Isn't that terrible? It's probably for the best...

What disk magazines did you read in the past and what do you think is the general purpose of them to the scene?

I didn't read any disk magazines. And to be honest, I guess I hated a lot of European groups at the time. I think it was just a cultural thing; I can't even remember why I didn't associate much with them. I probably shouldn't have said that, but I want to give you an honest interview.

Rad Man and I actually wrote a program called "Euro Abuser" which would encrypt/decrypt based on the timing of the computer, so programs would not work on PAL machines! I have no CLUE why we did this. Sorry! Today of course, I have no problem with any of that. A good friend of mine was Strider of Fairlight, and we used to rip on each other all the time over the phone. He is a great guy. I hope I can catch up with him, someday, too.

Were you ever involved in the H/P scene?

This is an interesting question. I was involved in the Phreaking scene. At one time there was a shortage of codes, so I wrote a hacking program to hack a dialup. I had broken the algorithm used to generate codes. I noticed what digits were the same, and formulated a program to take old, non-working codes and try new codes based on these. It worked great and I always had fresh coders that were unused by others.

When I was 16, a guy named Gizmo who was in our group at the time, got busted. This led the FBI and police to tap my phone, since he had turned me in. Eventually they caught up with me and confiscated all my stuff.

Luckily I was adjudicated from this (since I was 16), so it didn't go on my permanent record. My parents were NOT happy! ? I still managed to crack games after this. The people in TSM got together and sent me hardware!

It was pretty amazing. I have never used a phreak code since! I don't even know anything about the scene today.

And I like it that way...

Soon after I turned 17, however, is when the scene died for me, and when I quit, so the bust was sort of a wake-up call for me.

The last time I spoke with STEALTH was around 1995. He was importing wares for Legend at that time under the TSM label, our BBS was The Shaolin Temple, run by Aycee, which Legend shared with TSM. Ever thought about doing any cracking or importing again under the TSM label or have you had any feelings to do some old or new games again just for the nostalgia?

Well, I'll tell you. Something I forgot about. When I was around 20 years old, I moved to Colorado to live with my father and some of my step-family. At this time, I was writing a lot (fiction), and I actually ended up writing some cheesy suspense novel, that reads like a carbon copy of a bad Dean Koontz novel. During my year stay in Colorado, I broke out the C64 once again. I actually went back and started to crack ANY originals or software I may have had that was still protected. Some of the games I did:

Barbie (!) by Epyx (laugh)
Realms of Darkness (no one ever cracked it for like a year after it was out, and ESI finally did it)
Kings of the Beach (I ripped it all into files after documenting the whole EA loader and made it one disk)
GI Joe
Vorpal Utility Kit
DiskMaker 2.0

One distinct thing I remember when I was working on some of these games was the loader by Epyx for Barbie. They used a non-standard format and their loader was called Vorpal loader. In one part, where Barbie was supposed to answer a ringing phone, the actual ringing was TIMED with the end of the load routine! Which means, since Vorpal loads things super-fast, my standard loader wouldn't work. The phone would ring while the game was still loading! So I tapped into their interrupt and wrote a loop that would wait to play the sound AFTER the disk access was complete.

I LOVE figuring stuff out like that! :D

Most old-school sceners from the cracking scene have been involved in a war one way or another. What were some of the bigger wars you witnessed or were involved in and what were they like?

One of the biggest wars I remember was ESI versus UCF. That was amazing. I knew JJ the Breaker (he was in Michigan at the time), and he was a good friend. I also started to get friendly with Mitch (ESI) at the end of the war. Basically, what it was all about, was Mitch accused JJ of stealing his cracking routine for EA games (which I later used as the basis for decrypting Kings of the Beach). I don't remember the exact game. It might have been Murder Party, but I'm not 100% sure. JJ basically told me (he let me listen to Mitch's rant on his voice mail) that he looked at the protection routine and couldn't see any other way to do it. Breaking this scheme took Mitch 3 days, I think. EA had some nasty protection as they grew as a company. It was basically a FAT TRACK on one of the higher tracks on the disk, which was the actual protection, but the hard part was the loader. It was encrypted like you wouldn't believe, it sat in high memory past $f000, and the drive code itself was encrypted.
EA also used UNDOCUMENTED Op-codes to make it even harder to crack...

What an experience that was!

What is your definition in the scene of LAME and ELITE? any examples?

Well, as I've gotten older, these things have, for me, pretty much translated into people that actually DO things in life, contribute, and people that don't do ANYTHING to contribute, and try to live off the accomplishments of others.

LAME basically means that person you work with that does what they have to get by, or sometimes even less, while you have to pick up the slack.

ELITE is someone who goes above and beyond, is not averse to sharing views and techniques to help people, and tries to set a good example.

What release impressed you most on the C64?

In my time, I'd have to say it was a tie between two. California Games: Mitch had to call his buddy Lawrence, who is the guy that constructed some commercial hardware to copy software, a 15 second backup and Burst Nibbler, to get help cracking some nasty drive code.

Also he told me that some of the actual TEXT in memory was used as ASM code, so some of the pertinent text display in the game wouldn't be right if he had  changed the code. Very intelligent of the protection coders of Epyx!

The other was Realms of Darkness which was another crack by ESI (I was in the group at the time).
This game was, I think, 4 sides and there were so many files, the protection was so nasty, that it had been out for about a year. Mitch was bored so he actually started to crack it. A time or two in the middle he had told me he wanted to just put it aside since it was a long and drawn out crack, and no one really cared. But he did it anyway.

What are your favourites:

Demo group: FBR (Death Demon and Changeling RULEJ)

Programmer: Mike J. Henry (Fast Hack'em kicked butt...)

Musician: Neil Peart of Rush (the BEST drummer EVER, period!)
Graphician: Death Demon
Game: Pirates!
Cracking group: Starfleet
Cracker: The Goose and DoD (Devil of DOS) of Starfleet. They were absolutely unbeatable.
Importing group: FBR
BBS: One in the midwest I can't  remember!
NTSC fixer: Rad Man

What are your views on the internet and how it has affected the way computer scenes and people communicate and produce?

Funny you should ask; I was just thinking about this the other day. There are a few little things about the internet that I think people take for granted. People can talk about research and learning, easier access to information, etc. These things are very important and make up a lot of importance of the net. I think, though, that the best thing that came of it was COMMUNICATION. That a friend that you can't call (unless you aren't paying for it c that lives so far away, your kids when they are away at school, or even people you may meet on mailing lists that provide useful information or hook you up with others that you may relate to. This is the real power of the internet. Basically it's zero-wait. I suppose for the intolerant that is a good thing.

People I think still are a little intolerant about things like this, even with the internet. Call it what you will, but I think the internet's biggest accomplishment is that it brings people together and KEEPS people together because of the instant access we all have to each other.

As far as the scene, it has only made it 10 times better. Also I think that there are fewer risks in some respects, as far as downloading or distributing software. Napster is King, although for how much longer I don't know.

Groups today take distribution of warez to the absolute limits, like they are running a corporation or a business. I can only hope that these people have the same dedication on when it REALLY counts, out there in the world.

How would you describe the differences between scene personalities in the DEMO scene and CRACKING scene? Or even the differences between a USA scener and a EURO scener?

When I was around, there wasn't really a major demo scene, at least not over here.

The differences between the Euro scener and the USA scener were more of cultural differences. It was rare that USA groups, in my time, cracked games from Europe, or vice-versa. Take for instance, the Last Ninja, I remember the import coming in first, but then the USA scene cracked the American release. It was never really a big deal or problem. I did tend to just play the USA releases instead of the European ones, however. Most likely because some were not NTSC fixed at the time. I think a lot of European groups took the scene a lot more seriously than the USA groups.

There was still a lot of huffiness in the USA groups, but the Euros seemed to actually care more, or LOVE the scene, which you can witness through the many that are still around and keeping it alive (like my humble interviewer!)

We do try our best, unfortunately there are so many parasites that live off the wares only and don't contribute themselves.
What is the hardest game you have worked on? And what crack by any other have you see that has been most impressive?

Well I think I probably answered this previously, however, I'll answer it again since this is a more specific question and I can't go off on a tangent here!

The hardest game I ever did I think was Alien Syndrome. This is actually the game that started the war between NEC and TSM I think. I remember it being hard because I had to not only broken out the files for each side of the game, but I had to write a lot of code to make the game work after I did it. This was TSM's first official release, I think. It was probably the hardest because I was just getting myself up to par with cracking. Also the V-Max! protection was always changing and was a pain!

The other most impressive crack was California Games, by ESI.

What is your reaction when I tell you that the C64 scene is still alive?

I'd have to say, that's absolutely great! If anyone has the TSM cracks, please send them to me or tell me where I can get them! I'd like to start an archive and maybe put up a homepage for the sceners! I'm very happy that the C64 has a long history and that it is STILL going strong!

Do you still own a C64 and your disks stashed away some where?

Well, please no hate mail, but I tossed it all a ways back. It was at a time when I was making a few life transitions, like getting married, getting our own place and changing jobs. I think it was more emotional baggage and memories that I just didn't want to deal with at the time. Of course, now that we have a house and the business is doing well, I regret throwing it all out! But would I ever get any work done if I loaded up the old 64 and plugged the Super Snapshot cartridge in? I'd probably be wading through zero-page memory right now!

Please feel free to send greetings to anyone you know...

I'd like to just say hi to Player 1, who was a member of UCF and who contacted me recently.

Also, I'd like to say hi to Mitch and JJ, Arielle (Aycee) and of course the one and only Rad Man (Matt H.), my best friend to this day.

Not to forget Strider (Tony) of Fairlight and Bod (find him on Efnet, IRC!) of Talent.

Thanks for your time Andy, any last comments to leave a final impression on the audience?

Well, first I'd like to thank you, David, for letting me ramble on about all this stuff. I hope some people find it interesting. Instead of leaving you all with some C64 comments, I'd like to leave you with this, instead:

Keep trying, keep working, and working HARD. This goes for whatever you do. Approach everything with vigour and work it with integrity and care. When you get to where you are going, you will know in your heart and mind that you are responsible, through hard work, for your achievements.


The Hell Hacker/TSM.